Wednesday, March 05, 2008

countdown to iLeap

So the third quarter of my first year of teaching is drawing to a close. This means frantically updating gradebooks, filling out retention forms, and (drum roll, please) preparing my 6th graders for the iLeap. I will have an update on how many students passing/failing just as soon as I can crunch my numbers. But right now I am more worried about getting the kids prepped to sit and take tests all next week.

I am torn about the status of standardized testing and educational accountability. On the one hand, it totally fucking blows. It is cramming as much information into a kid's head as possible with minimal attention to what they really learned and will retain or to what is really going to be meaningful. I've said this before, that intuitively I may need to know that the commutative property of multiplication or addition exists, but do I really need to know the fancy math term for it just so I can fill out the right bubble on the standardized test? I mean, honestly?

On the other hand, in order to pass these tests, the children really do have to have problem solving skills of some sort and that is something vital to life outside of testing. Multiple choice does not an easy-pass make. In order for them to do well at all, I do have to figure out how to teach them to think and that's what we want, isn't it? These things are stupid to those of us to take it for granted that reading comprehension and basic arithmetic are no-brainers. Ever tried to teach a kid to think? Most people at some point in their lives, especially if they have kids or younger siblings, have spent time trying to teach someone their times tables or how fractions work. But did you ever have to teach them how to think?

This year has been a slow realization that the process of thinking out simple problems is something that a lot of us take for granted. You just do it. But my students, most of them, haven't been trained to think for themselves. It's not that they are any less intelligent than your average privileged white kid in suburbia. When they want something bad enough, they will figure out a way to get it and in some of the most surprising ways you can imagine. The problem, as I see it, is they have gone through their lives thinking that just getting the answer is what's important. 2 + 3 = 5 but who taught them to connect the numbers to the reality? They learn math because we told them to, not because they actually believe that it is useful to them (no matter what the stupid curriculum says or how much their teachers try to convince them with silly scenarios). So they go through the motions as quickly as possible, spit out an answer, and then move on to the more important task of gossiping and trying to figure out a better, sneakier way to eat noodles in class without getting caught.

They have super powers, these kids, they just haven't yet learned to use their powers for good.

Anyway, this all started with iLeap. And I guess what I really wanted to say is that there is something to be said for what the standardized tests are trying to accomplish. Still not convinced, however, that they succeed or that they are the best way to assess our kids' progress. Not that I have any better ideas.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

A big thanks for being a teacher! It's a hard job and we needs lots of good ones out there. I have two boys in school and good teachers are priceless.

About's out of control. My 11 yr old has been taking nonstop tests and practice tests this year and he's worn out from it all! He's a smart kid who makes great grades but school is starting to get boring with all this test taking. learning should still be fun, somewhat.